Issues Themes Cloudstreet

Issues, Concerns, Themes, Values…. #

Novels, as most works of art, are complex and multi-dimensional. They are not limited in meanings, concerns or themes rather often deal with wide ranging issues and are open to multiple interpretations.

Winton’s favoured themes: adolescence, masculinity, the WA landscape.

Many of the issues are also inter-related.

Here are some:

Religion and Spirituality #

Winton says he is interested in “faith, without religiosity, that pompousness that comes with the Church….. I ‘m interested in the kind of people who want to understand the meaning of their lives.”*

Winton suggests his spiritual side today is less about the “bearded god” he believed in as a boy than the resonance of the world and all its creatures. Looking into rockpools, he thinks that “to tread here and never pay tribute, to glance and just see objects, is to be spiritually impoverished.

Things are not just what they appear to be …” It’s a theme he explores with grace in his 1997 children’s book Blueback, which is dedicated to his kids Jesse, Harry and Alice, “who love the sea”.

He expands on this in our interview, dubbing himself an existential Christian.

“My experience of the world, social and natural, bears that out. I don’t have to prove it but it convinces me. Everything that exists has a story, has a trajectory … Some people find that belittling to the human experience, and in a sense it is, but we are just cosmic dandruff, really, and to me it’s a tonic to realise that you are small in the scheme of things.

“What you conceive of as holy and sacred changes as you age but I suspect it’s about a capacity to still wonder. Do you ever think people are fully explicable? I certainly don’t. We are mysteries to ourselves and mysteries to each other and sometimes I think religious instinct is about tolerance to mystery." Interview with Stephen Romei, The Australian review, Sept. 24 - 25 2016.

Another unidentified quote:

“if it’s not about love, if it’s not about mercy, if it’s not about kindness, if it’s not about liberation, then I’m just not that interested”.

Christianity #

Lester and Oriel start out as charismatic believers but lose their faith when Fish’s miraculous recovery is rejected by their church in Margaret River.

“Lester and Oriel Lamb are God-fearing people. If you didn’t know them you could see it in the way they set up a light in the darkness”

Superstition: #

Besides the miracle of Fish’s resuscitation, Cloudstreet explores the supernatural through luck, apparitions,

  • Quick glows like 60 watt light bulbs,

  • Quick sees himself in the country,

  • pigs speak in tongues,

  • people share dreams,

  • a fish is caught with mint coins,

  • ghosts haunt the house

  • a black apparition appears regularly as well as other divine manifestations.

The Pickles rely on the ‘shifty shadow’ to foretell their destiny while the Lamb’s use the ‘spinning knife’ to make their incidental decisions.

Aboriginal spirituality: #

The spirit of indigenous people haunt the land as well as the house. The spectres of the black man appear from time to time and act as a reminder of our invasion but also as a counsellor and protector.

Aboriginal and White reconciliation.

Winton gives full credit to our Aboriginal forbears by acknowledging their prior possession and their integral connection to the land. This recognition is an attempt for mutual respect and reconciliation.

Australia – Comes of age #

The war brings Australia to the world and suddenly we become part of it.

Lester barreled into the kids room. No school today! V.E. day!.

The war. Is over. The Krauts are out.

What about the Japs? Said Quick from the hallway.

The Japs are still in.

We’ll get em, said Quick.

Anyway. Hitler is dead.

Hitler didn’t bomb the Darwin. Said Quick.

Tokyo will go. Said Red. page 68

The integrations of an actual event, the terror of the Nedlands serial rapist gives realism to the novel and shows Australia coming of age.

Many other factors help to make Australia grow up and become independent of the mother country and develop its autonomy.

The Family #

As a Saga, Cloudstreet delves into the generational backgrounds and origins of Winton’s grandparents. We are given insights into the influences that conditioned Sam, his father’s weakness for gambling, Dolly’s incestuous heritage, Oriel’s traumatic youth and Lester’s desperate upbringing.

Tim Winton weaves the threads of lifetimes, of twenty years of shouting and fighting, laughing and grafting, into a story about acceptance and belonging.

Despite the bickering and unbridled hatred, genuine love eventually wins through and the ill-fated families are united in a celebratory picnic at the end.

Quick: Jesus I hate this family stuff. It makes me sick! I don’t need all this.

Oriel: It’s (family) all we have. …. Each other. Pg: 267

In other writing, Winton is clear about his dedication to children and how they need our nurture. The Lockie Leonard series are excellent illustrations of the genre Bildungsromans.

Children are born wild. Society’s primary function is to socialise them into consensual productive citizens by properly training teachers, police, prison officers and social workers. Otherwise children turn into feral creatures, monsters or savages. They’re trained into it. Because of neglect or indulgence. And when we meet them in the street, and have them in our classrooms, and haul them into the courts, we recoil from them in horror and disgust. Our detention centres and jails are heaving with them. If we don’t deal with root causes, band-aid solutions of more law enforcement will not solve our problems.

Tim Winton has also written extensively on raising boys:

Nostalgia - #

Just as Winton reflects on an Australia that once was, all the characters seem to be haunted by the past, especially the house.

Winton hankers for an Australia that has been lost to greed, modernity, conformity – progress?

As Mark Twain put it; “I don’t mind progress; it’s change I can’t stand”. By the time Cloudstreet is written, much of the character of Perth has been irrevocably changed by rampant development and high rise buildings by entrepreneurs such as Alan Bond and Robert Holmes a Court. Bairds, the Ambassador Cinema and the Perth Mint have vanished.

Tim Winton weaves the threads of lifetimes, of twenty years of shouting and fighting, laughing and grafting, into a story about acceptance and belonging.

As Oriel says: “I want my country back.”

Men and women – Gender issues; #

In a male dominated society, women carry most of the burdens but receive very little of the credit. Oriel feels she runs the household while Lester fails to carry his weight. Sam Pickles is not a good model and Dolly even worse and it is left to Rose to keep the family together.

Dolly is only valued by men for her sexual attraction until it fades:

“Men looked at her the way they looked at horses” page 19

Oriel On Men:

There was something wrong with men. They lacked some basic thing and she didn’t know what it was. She loved Lester, but a lot of loving him was making up for him, compensating. He was never quite up to anything. She knew he was a fool, but it wasn’t the same thing. Her father had been the same. He was a kindly man, big and thin and soft looking, but without enough flint in him to make his kindliness into kindness. As a child she could tell that he thought well of people, but he never had the resolve to make his feelings substantial. He never did anything for anybody but himself. Like when he remarried. Oriel’s mother and Sisters died in a bushfire that razed the farm and the house. Her father was so broken by the event, that after she was ragged alive from the half—collapsed cellar almost mad with ear and shock and guilt, and after he’d killed his last pig to i her burns, it was she who nursed him. She always had the feeling he would have just faded away, had she not mothered him as they moved from property to property on neighbour’s charity until she’d earned enough from kitchen work dairymuckjng to buy them a moth-eaten old tent to take back to their place and start again.

…Oriel knew she couldn’t help being strong when she had such weak men to live with. Oriel continued loving her father, but she knew that loving a man was a very silly activity; it was giving to the weak and greedy and making trouble for yourself*. Page 95- 96.

Motherhood: #

Oriel asks Quick whether she has been a good mother

Rose condemns her mother and asserts that she will love her children. It is only when she discovers Dolly’s past heritage that she understands and they become reconciled.